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News from Ireland:
Racial Attacks on the Increase in Ireland of the Welcomes

The cover of Magill's May 200 issue.

By Irish America Staff
August / September 2000

Ireland has long been famed as the land of the céad míle fáilte or “hundred thousand welcomes,” but it may be a case of céad míle insults for some visitors, if recent reports of racist attacks are anything to go by. From increasing physical attacks in some areas of Dublin to mass protests around the country, some Irish people are making their feelings very clear about the numbers of asylum seekers arriving on their shores.

An upsurge in human rights violations in their native countries has led increasing numbers of Nigerians, Congolese, Kosovars, and other nationalities to seek asylum all across Europe, including Ireland. Some are granted refugee status by the Irish government, others are deported back to their country of origin. Last year, Ireland received 7,762 asylum applications, compared to 4,626 in 1998. As hostels and other available accommodation began to fill up in Dublin, many asylum seekers were moved to other locations throughout the country. This in turn has led to outbreaks of violence and strong resistance from some communities.

Magill magazine reported that one in five Africans living in Dublin had suffered some form of physical assault, one in four of them women, while close to 100 percent had suffered verbal abuse. It also quoted the 1999 edition of the travel book The Rough Guide to Ireland, which noted that Ireland is “shamefully intolerant of minority groups,” and warned travelers, “If you are black you may well experience a peculiarly naïve brand of ignorant racism.”

A Nigerian business owner who told a newspaper reporter that immigrants would have to start fighting back found himself the target of violence the following day when the windows were smashed in his ethnic goods store. Said Kola Ojewale: “I have tried to contribute to this economy by opening this shop. I feel our lives are not safe. There is a lot of racism but I think it is a small minority.”

Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae added to the general melee when he commented in a radio interview that all non-legitimate asylum seekers should be shown “the road out of the country” immediately. “The people who aren’t here at all are the ones in right trouble,” he said. “They can’t get the big money to get in here. Where did the people who got here get the big money?”

He also said there were around 80,000 asylum seekers in the State, a claim quickly dismissed by Justice Minister John O’Donoghue who described the true figure as being around 12,000.

The tiny village of Clogheen in County Tipperary sprang into the public eye when locals organized a mass picket outside a hotel that was preparing to house up to 30 asylum seekers. Protesters carried strongly worded signs, one of which read, “Make a stand now; let this bunch in and they will never, ever leave.” A series of public meetings in the town attracted hordes of reporters, and tensions ran high, with locals raising concerns about whether the asylum seekers would be tested for various diseases before being allowed to stay in the country. The owner of the Vee Valley Hotel came in for particularly strong criticism from those living in the area, and the building itself was damaged by fire in three separate arson attacks.

There has been a positive reaction to refugees and asylum seekers in at least one southern town, however, with the launch of Integrate Waterford, an initiative supported by local businesses which aims to help refugees with successful integration in areas such as housing, education, employment, and health. But the news that the government was gearing up to repatriate Waterford’s Kosovan community came as a blow to the scheme.

A recent report commissioned by organizations working with marginalized groups in Ireland reached the conclusion that media reports on asylum seekers and refugees tend to describe these displaced persons as “people whose primary motivation is to freeload.” ♦

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